By Niall Gartland
YES it’s only week two of the league, but Tyrone’s clash against Donegal this Sunday has ‘must win’ written all over it.
The Red Hands slumped to their first defeat in 20 years to Roscommon at Dr Hyde Park last weekend, and another defeat would spell danger even at this relatively early juncture.
It’s hard to put your finger on Tyrone’s form at present; by all accounts they had a productive pre-season and the McKenna Cup went swimmingly until their one-sided defeat to Derry in the final.
So what exactly has been behind their hopefully temporary dip in fortunes? Well, to cite one statistic, they’ve conceded six goals in their last two games, a worrying rate for a side that were practically impenetrable in their run to All-Ireland honours in 2021.
They aren’t firing on all cylinders up front either and went long stretches without scoring in the McKenna Cup final while 1-12 proved insufficient on a gusty day in Roscommon.
Comments were made to the effect that Roscommon looked fitter and sharper on Sunday – perhaps Tyrone are going through a heavy block of training, or perhaps it was just one of those days where the team failed to really ignite. In that respect, Sunday’s game against Donegal should tell a tale.
The Red Hands haven’t fared too well against Donegal in the last couple of years, their Ulster Championship semi-final win in 2021 aside, so they’ll be under no illusions about the task in front of them.
Having zero points on the board after two games ahead of a massive run of matches against Galway, Mayo and Kerry wouldn’t be ideal – Tyrone would, in all likelihood, need three wins from their final five matches if they lose to Donegal to stay up, and the games aren’t getting any easier.
Whatever about the result, fans will want to see a spirited performance in their first home match of the league.
If the defence tightens up, and Darren McCurry and Darragh Canavan receive adequate supply up front, that would be half the battle. It’s a team stacked with All-Ireland winners, but time will tell whether the players have the inherent hunger to go to the well and re-establish themselves as real contenders in the race for the Sam Maguire.
Their opponents Donegal were buoyant after snatching a late winner against Kerry last weekend – a massive jolt in the arm given some of the fears about what might transpire in the post-Michael Murphy era – but they aren’t quite so formidable away from Ballybofey. A winnable contest for the Red Hands then – but games, as we know, aren’t won on paper alone.